When gathering information on the experiences of cancer patients, future clinicians and researchers may turn to blogs, social media and online forums. The internet offers cancer patients a rich source of news and information, as well as providing a platform for patients to share experiences, offer support and discuss their needs. The resulting patient-led discussions form a resource that may prove useful for healthcare professionals.
A study published this week in ecancermedicalscience, the open access journal from the European Institute of Oncology, examines the online narratives of patients undergoing chemotherapy for colorectal cancer.
After selecting online forums dedicated to colorectal cancer, Dr Kathleen Beusterien of Outcomes Research Strategies in Health, Washington DC, and her colleagues categorized the discussions into areas such as physical side effects, work productivity and emotional impact. The study develops a model to illustrate the real-world experiences of patients by using qualitative analysis to identify key themes and hypothesized relationships among the themes. The results form a detailed picture of the effects of chemotherapy on patients with colorectal cancer, ranging from emotional well-being to the physiological consequences of side effects. While gastrointestinal problems were frequently discussed as the most common side effect of chemotherapy, the study found that the most commonly expressed emotion in the forums was hope.
As healthcare professionals grow more interested in social media, personalized medicine and patient empowerment, the web analysis methodology developed by Beusterien and colleagues may provide more valuable patient-centred insight into the real-world experience of cancer treatments.